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Utah decides to stick with its own health exchange

  • Article by: BRADY McCOMBS
  • Associated Press
  • December 14, 2012 - 7:20 PM

SALT LAKE CITY - Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday that Utah will stick with its own existing health insurance exchange in hopes that the federal government will deem it acceptable under the health care overhaul.

Rather than joining rank with 19 fellow Republican governors who have refused to run their own programs and put it back on the federal government, Herbert opted to submit a detailed rundown of Utah's 3-year-old exchange, highlighting areas where the plan already, or will someday, meet federal guidelines.

In a letter sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Herbert said there are several problems with federal exchanges and that he would prefer a state-based approach to stay true to "Utah principles."

Herbert, a Republican, wrote that he intends "to move forward with Utah's version of an exchange" and requests that HHS certify it as compliant with the new federal law.

"You will find it meets the broad goals and objectives," Herbert wrote.

Friday was decision day for states to notify the federal government if they will set up their own insurance exchanges under the federal health care law. Exchanges are online health insurance marketplaces pioneered in Utah and Massachusetts. Utah's exchange was launched on a limited basis in 2009 and fully implemented two years later.

Utah became the 18th state to decide to set up and run its own market, according to monitoring by The Associated Press. The administration has already started granting approvals to these states.

Nine other states have indicated they want to pursue a partnership with Washington, and more may do so. Iowa joined this group on Friday, when Gov. Terry Branstad said that cost of a state-based exchange made the partnership best for his state.

Four states remained undecided.

Utah appears willing to meet the federal government part way in order to maintain an exchange it believes should be a model for the rest of the country. In a chart showing nine areas where Utah's exchange differs from the kind envisioned in the federal health care law, Utah officials highlight plans to provide an individual health insurance market by 2014.

That's significant, because analysts say Utah's lack of plan for individuals is a major hurdle to making it compatible with the requirements set out in the Affordable Care Act. That law was ushered through and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

The comparison chart sent out by Utah officials calls the exchange envisioned in the law much different that the state's exchange. The document refers to the federal version as a "complex network of systems" that covers public and private sectors. Utah's plan is a "narrower enterprise that focuses exclusively on supporting choice and competition in the insurance market," the document says.

Utah officials say that taxing the uninsured and administering federal tax credits are responsibilities that fall on the federal government, not states. About a requirement to create a consumer assistance program, state officials called the federal requirements "onerous" and unrealistic.

Herbert's letter to Sebelius was the latest in a series of communications over the exchange. Herbert sent a letter early in the week asking President Barack Obama to approve Utah's exchange and declare that it meets the requirements of the federal health overhaul. She responded with a message Thursday, saying the federal government wants to work with Utah to certify the state's exchange. He responded by announcing that the state would continue to move forward on its own.

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Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.

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